Rev. Richard Bott
The Right Rev. Richard Bott. (Screenshot: United Church of Canada/YouTube)

Topics: UCC in Focus | Church News

United churches told to delay funerals due to COVID-19

"We may need to focus on pastoral care without liturgical support," said The Right Rev. Richard Bott


UPDATE 03/026/2020: Contrary to an earlier directive, The United Church of Canada clarified in a note Thursday that Ontario churches will still be allowed to stream worship from their buildings, on advice from the chief of staff for the province’s solicitor general.

The moderator of The United Church of Canada is urging churches to postpone funerals amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

In a note posted to the organization’s website Tuesday, The Right Rev. Richard Bott called on clergy to delay holding memorial services to abide by health and government authorities’ requests that Canadians not gather in groups to slow the spread of the virus. 

By having the funeral service later, we make it possible for all who have known and loved that individual to come together—to remember, to give thanks, and to reflect,” he wrote.

But Bott wrote that he understands that a situation where a body needs to be buried requires some urgency, and that a small graveside committal service would be acceptable. 

“I ask you to think very carefully about the risk inherent in even a committal service with a small group present; none of us wants to damage another’s health,” he wrote. “We may need to focus on pastoral care without liturgical support.”

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United Church of Canada General Secretary Nora Sanders also told Ontario parishes Wednesday to close their buildings in accordance with new provincial rules on essential workplaces. Churches were not included in the list of workplaces permitted to stay open. 

In the past two weeks, most, if not all, United churches have closed their doors to the public, and cancelled in-person services and other programs. However, ministry staff have been livestreaming or pre-recording worship from their church buildings.

Going forward, only custodial or other staff or volunteers will be allowed in to the churches to check heat or water, Sanders wrote. The organization will also hold a webinar so worship leaders can share ideas.  

“We know this is yet another abrupt swerve in this crisis, but clergy and staff have shown great imagination as they move online,” she wrote.

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  • says:

    With respect, the GC is getting too involved now with the decision making process of the local pastors. If you are a Pastor of a local congregation dont arbitrarily postpone the funeral. Call the funeral homes you work with. Get it straight from them on the precautions and guidelines they are mandated to follow by the provincial government and their professional association for the conduct of funerals in situations such as COVID 19. They are dealing with the particular circumstances of each family, one family at a time. And they have no desire to delay anyone's funeral if that can be avoided at all. If a pastor is not comfortable doing the funeral than say no and refer to someone who is willing to work under the restrictions placed upon the family by the funeral home. Otherwise consult with the family and the funeral director. You will find some changes- like no receptions. But what the family desires and what the funeral home will provide in the local circumstance may not require a substantial delay or dramatic change to the service portion itself.